In 2014, Major League Soccer redesigned the league crest to bring the club into a new era with a new direction. The newly designed logo featured three stars in the top left corner, representing the league’s commitment to club, country and community.
Now, just over four years later, Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad is as much a representation for the vision that the league had for its new direction as they come. At just 21 years old, the RSL Academy product is already entering his sixth MLS season and second camp with the U.S. National Team. Over the next three days, we will explore how the young defender has established himself as a pillar of all three of the league’s enduring guideposts.
In part two, Glad talks about his second invitation to the U.S. National Team’s January camp and how he will look to become a staple on the U.S. roster as it pursues a return to the World Cup in 2022.
Ever since he was 16 years old, Glad has been a regular contributor in the U.S. Youth National Team setup. From his first cap with the U-17s, he has climbed the ladder, eventually leading the U.S. to its first ever CONCACAF U-20 championship in 2017 before a run to the quarterfinals to the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup. While the competition was a high level, the true challenge on the international level didn’t come until his first senior national team camp.
In 2017, Glad was coming off his best year in soccer. In addition to his play with the U-20s, he also came into his own with Real Salt Lake, winning the club’s Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second consecutive season. RSL compiled a 9-5-4 record with a 1.06 goals against average in his 18 starts after coming back from international duty and injury that kept him out of the first 16 matches of the season.
“The World Cup year was fun. That was an opportunity that I was very grateful for. It’s an experience that you can never replicate,” Glad said. “It broke up the season a little bit because sometimes it can feel long. It’s a 34-game marathon. Being able to get away with the U-20 guys was fun. Then coming back into RSL I was able to hit my stride after a pretty intense tournament. It’s an experience that is different.”
That earned him a call from U.S. Interim Head Coach Dave Sarachan for January camp. Still just 20 years old, he was seeing an opportunity that many aspiring players with long careers could only hope for.
Of the 30 players called in by Sarachan, 15 had yet to earn their first cap for the U.S. National Team. Glad was included in that group making their maiden voyage. And while he put in the work, he was not among the few that got the opportunity to suit up when the U.S. faced Bosnia and Herzegovina to close out the camp.
Now making his second appearance in camp with a new group of players under U.S. Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, Glad will again seek his first appearance in the Stars and Stripes, but now with an even-more focused perspective on what it takes to play for the national team.
“Nothing is guaranteed. You’ve got to go in with the same mentality and that’s to work hard, put your head down and really earn that spot. It’s all about focus,” he said. “I think in soccer, you have your ups and downs, but what a lot of it comes down to is focus. I was disappointed in the end of the camp not to be put on the roster, so this time I’m focusing on what more I can do to make my mark.”
Ever since Berhalter was named coach, Glad started watching video of the new boss’s old club, Columbus Crew SC, to learn as much as he could about the tactical approach deployed by Berhalter – himself a former center back. His approach turned Columbus into one of the stingiest defenses in MLS for a reason and Glad sought any edge he could find heading into camp, which started last week in Carson, California.
“I know how Gregg likes to play,” Glad said. “So hopefully going into the camp knowing his tactics will have me more prepared.”
With still 10 days of training before the first match, Glad has a chance to prove himself yet again alongside some of his former U-20 teammates along with some other proven MLS talents in the center back position.
For all that he’s grown in size and stature in recent years, he still gives the coaches a different look than some of the others in his position.
“With Justen, being a young player at center back is very difficult and he did it with intelligence,” Berhalter said in a conference call with reporters. “I think he’s calm, he’s composed, he’s not a physically dominating center back like Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie but we want to see how he does with this group.”
Regardless of playing time in the two friendlies the U.S. has on the schedule against Panama and Costa Rica, Glad will undoubtedly take plenty of lessons and building blocks from the current training camp.
“It gives him a shot in the arm in terms of confidence, in terms of competition, in terms of fitness. There are all of these puzzle pieces that most people don’t stop to think about that can come together,” RSL General Manager Craig Waibel said. “Now it’s a matter of can he go enjoy that challenge of going in that really extreme environment for the next four weeks and excel and then come back with more confidence and build off of that? There are certain things only those players can answer and the honor belongs to them to answer those questions.”
Watch Glad, RSL forward Corey Baird and the U.S. take on Panama on January 27 from Glendale, Arizona at 6 p.m. MT on ESPN2 and Costa Rica on February 2 from San Jose, California on FOX, with kickoff scheduled for 1:30 p.m. MT.